Florida school board races are supposed to be nonpartisan; keep them that way | Our View

·4 min read

Local school board races in Florida are nonpartisan.

That's what the law says. Voters approved a statewide ballot initiative in 1998 that made them that way.

It was a wise decision back then, and it remains so today.

Schools should be places where children obtain objective information and learn critical-thinking skills they'll need to know and have throughout their lives, free from the spin of any political party.

Well-educated young people can decide for themselves which political views best align with their own beliefs and values. They don't need anyone trying to indoctrinate them while they're learning the basics of math, science, history, or whatever.

Schools are run by school districts, which are managed by school boards. If school board members are elected with the support of a political party, they're more likely to attempt to infuse some of that party's thinking into the decisions they make as public officials.

All of that seems like common sense. There are, however, a significant number of people in positions of power who would like to have partisan school board elections.

They argue it's better to know about the core values that guide public officials' decisions.

That may be true, but there are other ways to find out what those core values are besides having candidates declare a party affiliation, accept political party endorsements and declare their loyalty to a party.

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Indian River County school board member Teri Barenborg discusses the agenda with superintendent David Moore on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, during a school board meeting. The board heard comment from the public on the proposed removing of certain books from all school libraries.
Indian River County school board member Teri Barenborg discusses the agenda with superintendent David Moore on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, during a school board meeting. The board heard comment from the public on the proposed removing of certain books from all school libraries.

It's been said there's no Republican or Democratic way to pave a pothole. The same principle applies when it comes to matters like reviewing teacher salaries or determining whether it makes more sense to start the school day at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.

Unfortunately, even with the nonpartisan system we have, there recently have been attempts to politicize certain issues.

School boards across Florida spent significant amounts of time the past two years debating policies related to the COVID pandemic.

It's regrettable decisions that should have focused on protecting the health and safety of students and staff instead became political litmus tests. For example, state legislators planned to withhold funding from Indian River County and 11 other school districts as punishment for imposing mask mandates, some quite limited, although Gov. Ron DeSantis ultimately decided not to follow through with that strategy.

While the pandemic seems to be abating, attention has shifted to other politically charged issues, like banning books from school libraries and restricting topics like homosexuality and critical race theory from classroom discussions.

Much of the debate over these aforementioned issues has been a distraction from other matters that more directly impact students' education.

Florida state Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican, and  members of Moms for Liberty claim at a news conference June 25 in Palm Bay that critical race theory is  taught to administrators and teachers to implement in schools.
Florida state Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican, and members of Moms for Liberty claim at a news conference June 25 in Palm Bay that critical race theory is taught to administrators and teachers to implement in schools.

Some people might argue that since school board issues have become so politicized anyway, it makes sense to drop the pretense of nonpartisanship and bring the political food fights into the open.

By that line of logic, society ought to repeal certain criminal laws, since people sometimes end up harming each other anyway, even with laws restricting such violence.

Bringing partisan politics out into the open would only make a bad situation worse.

In reality, the most important decision any school board makes involves the hiring of a district superintendent. Once the superintendent is in place, it's that person's job to oversee the hiring and management of other district staff responsible for handling the district's day-to-day operations.

School board members have an important role in providing oversight into how a district is being run, but they shouldn't micromanage decisions made by full-time professional staff.

It's inevitable some school board members will later seek other public offices where partisan politics comes more directly into play. That's OK, as long as those people aren't just using school board seats as springboards to reach their political ambitions.

Election season is upon us. There will be lots of opportunities for voters to affirm their political alliances in other levels of government service this summer and fall.

The education of our children should be a sacred trust. Let's keep it as free of politics as possible.

Editorials published by TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers are decided collectively by its editorial board. To respond to this editorial with a letter to the editor, email up to 300 words to TCNLetters@TCPalm.com.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Florida school board races no place for partisan politics | Our View